World Cup

Who's next?

The ICC World Twenty20 has often helped dreams flower and bequeathed the champions’ tag to unheralded teams. M.S. Dhoni’s men in 2007, or England in 2010, were not exactly favourites to win the title, but ‘surprise’ is the global event’s second skin.

The latest edition’s main phase, commencing with the India-New Zealand clash at Nagpur on Tuesday, is all set to provide its share of shock-and-awe moments. As South Africa captain Faf du Plessis said, this is perhaps the most wide open World Twenty20 with many contenders jostling for the silverware.

There has been no lack of peripheral drama either, with nature and international affairs contributing to it. While the rains drenched one of the venues for the qualifiers — Dharamshala — which was also in the vortex of a political controversy, Pakistan preferred to skip the venue and had its big game against India moved to Kolkata.

Among the teams, India has a distinct edge. The weight of its performances in the recent past, including the Asia Cup Twenty20 title, have added to the allure. There is more to draw from home advantage and raucous fans. This is also perhaps Dhoni’s last big-ticket ICC event; helming a strong unit, the host skipper may well increase the trophy collection in BCCI’s cabinet.

The others, too, will fancy their chances. Under Steve Smith, Australia gets another opportunity to clinch the only ICC title missing in its kitty. Inspiration may be had from the 50-over World Cup in 1987, when Allan Border led Australia to an epochal win at Eden Gardens. Border’s men built their brand-equity from there, but Smith already has David Warner, Shane Watson, Glenn Maxwell and James

Faulkner — players capable of lighting up any Twenty20 stage — in his ranks.

South Africa, always strong on paper but fragile in knock-out games, gets another opportunity to expunge the dreaded ‘chokers’ reference. A.B. de Villiers, the patron-saint of cricketing miracles either while guiding a chase or setting up a target, will be keen to leave an imprint. If the Proteas manage to avoid a brain-freeze, du Plessis and company could well script a fresh chapter.

Twenty20’s inherent compression levels the field and evens out the flaws, making every team believe that it can ambush the best. It is just a matter of one good biff, or a few tight overs, for a contest to flip. Viewed in that context, New Zealand (a classic example of the sum being greater than the parts), England (exuberant but marred by diffidence in limited-over jousts at times), Pakistan (mercurial and a soothsayer’s nightmare), and West Indies (a nostalgia lodestone now packed with Twenty20 men-to-order like Chris Gayle and Dwayne Bravo) are all in with a chance.

Meanwhile, defending champion Sri Lanka is struggling to cope with the retirements of Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara, and will have to play incredibly well to replicate its championship-winning effort of 2014. Add to the mix, qualifier Afghanistan — cricket’s big story of hope — which can increase the unpredictability quotient, and it's clear that the game's followers are set for a gripping fortnight which will culminate at Kolkata on April 3.

The previous editions have thrown up a new champion every time, with India, Pakistan, England, West Indies and Sri Lanka basking in the victor’s glow. If Dhoni’s men buck that trend, the whole of India will turn ecstatic.

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Printable version | May 18, 2021 7:54:25 PM |

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